Tour boat operator to invest $32 million to keep iconic tourist attraction afloat
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced an agreement Tuesday that will prevent the Maid of the Mist scenic boat excursions from shutting down. The multilateral agreement spearheaded by the governor provides for the Maid of the Mist to continue to operate in the Niagara Gorge and for it to produce increased revenues for Niagara Falls State Park.
The agreement will also lead to improvements of the boat tour experience for park visitors and will protect New York state from potential disruptions to a critical tourism attraction for decades to come.
The family-run Maid of the Mist Corp., based in Niagara Falls, plans to invest $32 million in the former Schoellkopf Power Station site to make it suitable for the winter storage and maintenance of its tour boats, and to provide amenities for public use and recreational activities. Upon completion, New York State Parks will own the improved facilities.
"The Maid of the Mist tours by the world-famous Niagara Falls waterfalls and of the Niagara River Gorge are a signature tourism attraction of Western New York," Cuomo said. "The agreement that the state of New York has reached with the Maid of the Mist for a winter boat storage location on the New York side of the falls will ensure that this Western New York corporation continues to bring great value to the region's tourism and economy, including increased revenues for State Parks. At the same time, the agreement provides for capital improvements for enhanced outdoor recreational attractions for the public's enjoyment, making this multidimensional accord a win-win for Niagara Falls State Park, the region and New York state."
A memorandum of understanding has been agreed to by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks), the New York Power Authority and the Maid of the Mist Corp. for the boat operator to utilize the Schoellkopf site, in the Cataract City, only minutes away from the falls. The new site will replace the current winter storage location near the base of the Horseshoe Falls in Ontario, which the Maid of the Mist will no longer be able to lease as of 2014 due to a decision by the province earlier this year to award the tour boat business on the Canadian side of the falls to a California company.
Under the provisions of the MOU, the Maid of the Mist will increase its license payments to State Parks, which are projected to total $105 million over the 30 years remaining on the amended contract. The $105 million is three times larger than the revenues projected for this 30-year period when the contract was initially approved in 2002. For 2014, the Maid of the Mist will pay a guaranteed $2.2 million minimum license payment to State Parks, which is nearly a 50 percent increase over the current annual license payment. The company's 2011 license payment to State Parks was $1.47 million.
The construction at the former Schoellkopf site would include:
Two platforms to provide a lower boat storage area for the winter dry docking of two Maid of the Mist vessels and storage for floating docks, and an upper maintenance area for winter storage of a work boat and for a maintenance building;
A new elevator within an existing elevator shaft at the Schoellkopf plant for transporting between the two platforms;
A vertical marine lift for removing each of the excursion boats into and out of the water;
Enhanced access to existing hiking trails by the new storage site;
Measures for the adaptability of the lower boat storage platform to serve as a public observation deck during the mild weather seasons; and
A potential for a future rock-climbing and rappelling feature along the foundation wall of the former Schoellkopf plant.
"The agreement with the Maid of the Mist Corp. for a new winter storage location, on the New York side of the falls, will ensure the continued operation of this excursion boat business - a long-time vital enterprise for Western New York that spins off millions of dollars of revenues for the state of New York, including our parks," said New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. "The Maid of the Mist has been a wonderful partner for Western New York and New York state for many years and will continue to be under the multilateral agreement, which includes expansion of public recreational features by the Schoellkopf facility, in the City of Niagara Falls."
"The New York Power Authority is pleased to help make possible the continued operation of the Maid of the Mist well into the future in our partnership with State Parks to make the Schoellkopf site available for winter storage and maintenance of the tour boats," said Gil C. Quiniones, NYPA president and CEO. "The scarcity of nearby sites suitable for the storage of the vessels on the lower Niagara River threatened the continued operation of the Maid of the Mist, leading to the agreement for the Schoellkopf site, under Gov. Cuomo's leadership. The next steps will be to undertake environmental reviews for the necessary permitting and then the construction of the new winter storage site."
"I want to thank Gov. Cuomo and his administration for their support of the Maid of the Mist's continued operation," said Christopher M. Glynn, president of the Maid of the Mist Corp. "Our family has owned this business since 1971 and hasn't lost one iota of passion for bringing the experience of the power and grandeur of Niagara Falls to millions of people around the world. The agreement that we've reached with State Parks and the New York Power Authority will allow us to continue these unparalleled boat tours in the years ahead while contributing additional benefits for the people of Western New York."
"I want to thank Gov. Cuomo for his partnership in securing this agreement to ensure the world-famous WNY business - the Maid of the Mist - remains a viable tourism attraction for many years to come," said State Sen. George D. Maziarz. "I couldn't be more pleased we were able to work out an arrangement with this local company to keep their magnificent boat tour of the falls operational, while also requiring capital improvements and expanded recreational opportunities to benefit our community. This is a win for everyone."
The memorandum of understanding agreed to by the parties is expected to lead to amendment of a 2002 license granted to the Maid of the Mist Corp. by State Parks for it to operate its tour boats at Niagara Falls State Park. The 2002 agreement anticipated that the license could be reviewed and adjusted every five years. At the end of the term of the Maid's license, State Parks will issue a request for proposals to continue the boat tour and related services.
In addition to the increased payments, the Maid of the Mist will also undertake steps to improve the tour boat experience for park visitors, including offering online tickets sales, renovating bathrooms, developing a smartphone app, and reviewing steps to reduce time passengers spend on waiting lines for the tour. The Schoellkopf site is operated and maintained by State Parks under an agreement with the Power Authority. NYPA owns the site, which is within the federally licensed boundary of its Niagara Power Project.
The Power Authority will seek the authorization of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the specified use of the Schoellkopf site under the Niagara project's current operating license, issued in 2007.
NYPA will seek lead agency status for analysis under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act of the planned capital improvements. The Maid of the Mist Corp. will be responsible for hiring any consultants necessary to support the assessment. It will also be responsible for supporting related analyses associated with reviews by FERC, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Department of State, among others.
The capital improvements will be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.